The Renaissance is a term that refers to the historical, cultural, and artistic movement that developed first in Italy and then quickly spread throughout the rest of Europe, from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century. The various disciplines differed considerably from area to area. This movement was characterized by the emergence of a new way of looking at life and the revival of studies and the arts.
There is a consensus that the Renaissance began in Florence, Italy, in the 14th century. Robert Langdon, the main character in Dan Brown’s Inferno agrees.
Various theories have been brought forward to account for its origins and characteristics, focusing on a variety of factors including the social and civic peculiarities of Florence at the time; its political structure; as well as the patronage of its dominant family, the Medici, who promoted the arts.
The Renaissance has a long and complex history, which has generate much debate among historians. Particularly controversial is whether it should be regarded as a moment of rupture—the dawning of a new period of time—or as a continuation of the Middle Ages.
Some scholars are of the opinion that the Renaissance should be considered a period of rebirth that occurred after a long period of cultural stagnation.
The term Renaissance, whose literal translation from French into English is Rebirth, was first used and defined by the French historian Jules Michelet in his 1855 work entitled Histoire de France. It has also been extended to other historical and cultural movements, such as the Carolingian Renaissance (eighth and nineth centuries) and the Renaissance of the twelfth century.
The Renaissance’s influence was felt in literature, philosophy, art, music, politics, science, religion, and other aspects of intellectual inquiry.
The Renaissance also witnessed the discovery and exploration of new continents, the substitution of the Copernican system for the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, the decline of the feudal system in favor of the growth of commerce, and the invention or application of such potentially powerful innovations as paper, printing, the mariner’s compass, and gunpowder.
As a cultural movement, it encompassed the innovative flowering of Latin and vernacular literature, beginning with the fourteenth century resurgence of learning based on classical texts.
In stark contrast to the High Middle Ages, when Latin scholars focused almost entirely on studying Greek and Arabic works on natural science, philosophy, and mathematics, Renaissance scholars were most interested in recovering and studying Latin and Greek literary, historical, and rhetorical texts.
In politics, the Renaissance contributed to the development of the conventions of diplomacy, and in science, to an increased reliance on observation; however, it is best known for its artistic developments (linear perspective, oil on canvas, and other techniques of rendering a more natural reality in painting) and the contributions of such polymaths as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
In arts one of the distinguishing features of Renaissance was the development of highly realistic linear perspective. Art came to be seen as a branch of knowledge, valuable in its own right and capable of providing man with images of God and his creations as well as with insights into man’s place in the universe. Art was to be based on the observation of the visible world and practiced according to mathematical principles of balance, harmony, and perspective.
The first to use perspective was the Italian painter and architect Giotto, considered the first in a line of great artists who contributed to the Italian Renaissance.
In every way perspective was formalized as an artistic technique after the perspective table representing the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence by the architect Filippo Brunelleschi and the subsequent writings of Leon Battista Alberti.
Renaissance architecture was based on the revival of classical forms and orders, the use of basic geometric shapes for the definition of the plants, research of orthogonal and symmetric joints, and the use of harmonic proportion in the individual parts of the building.
Renaissance painters also developed other techniques, such as studying light, shadows, and, famously, in the case of Leonardo da Vinci, human anatomy. The works of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raffaello represent artistic pinnacles that were to be greatly imitated by other artists. Other notable artists include Sandro Botticelli, Donatello, and Tiziano.
By the end of the fifteenth century, the fame of Italian artists exceeded the boundaries of the peninsula; these artists were now in the demand of the European courts.
In sixteenth century in Europe, French, German, Spanish, English, Flemish, and Dutch Renaissance schools began to emerge.
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